By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma GEAR UP is preparing for National GEAR UP Week 2020, which takes place Monday through Friday, September 21 – 25. This week celebrates the success of GEAR UP, a program designed to increase college and career readiness and success in communities across America.
Oklahoma GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a federally funded program administered by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. It provides college preparation services and information to 7th-12th grade students, college freshmen and their families.
GEAR UP currently partners with 10 school districts and five regional colleges throughout the state to prepare nearly 12,000 middle and high school students for college success through college campus tours, ACT test preparation and testing, and college exploration and preparation courses.
The program offers college access and financial aid information to students and families through awareness activities, including Oklahoma’s Promise and FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) completion assistance.
“Through GEAR UP students are provided with information and assistance to take steps to prepare financially for life after high school,” said Kyle, GEAR UP representative. “Our team works with students to complete their FAFSA form as well as find scholarships and grants they can apply for. Ultimately, bringing the scary price tag of college down to something more manageable.”
GEAR UP school specialists create and maintain relationships with students by providing one-on-one guidance. College coaches, a resource available once students arrive on one of GEAR UP’s partner college campuses, provide support to students in their transition into college. Coaches connect with students to answer questions and share information to set students up for success.
‘I love GEAR UP because they help me with ACT prep and signup,” said Oklahoma City student Stormi Smith.
GEAR UP also provides collaboration and leadership opportunities for school administers, faculty and staff and works with them to implement and enhance Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to address student achievement.
Education coordinators participate in weekly teacher meetings to offer ongoing support for PLC classroom strategies.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, GEAR UP, like so many organizations, has adapted to virtual meetings with students, sharing virtual campus tours for colleges across Oklahoma. The process can increase the participation of parents by starting a SMS text message program to send updates and reminders throughout the school year.
With the help of GEAR UP, 1,774 Oklahoma seniors participated in college application week in 2019. That same year, 7,105 students attended college readiness workshops, 4,519 students received academic counseling and 5,112 students attended a college visit.
Since 1999, Oklahoma has received four consecutive, multi-year, statewide GEAR UP grants, which has helped improve educational outcomes for thousands of Oklahoma students.
In 1999, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Oklahoma with a state GEAR UP grant totaling $20.5 million. The grant was supplemented with a one-year extension of $4.4 million in 2004. Oklahoma received additional GEAR UP grants totaling $20.6 million in 2005 and $34.9 million in 2011. In September 2017, the State Regents were awarded a fourth, consecutive GEAR UP grant in the amount of $24 million over the next seven years.
For more information about GEAR UP or to contact a member of GEAR UP staff, visit okgearup.org.